» WISHES TO MEDUSA AT THE BASILICA CISTERN

Photo EssayThe Basilica Cistern (Yerebatan Sarnıcı) is spooky, but would be a lot spookier if it weren’t overrun with tour groups, or if it was still full of the corpses they once stored here, before turning it into a tourist attraction with a very repetitive, endless loop of classical music for a soundtrack.

Inverted Medusa at the Basilica Cistern in Istanbul, (c) 2016 Brian Awehali

Inverted Medusa at the Basilica Cistern in Istanbul, (c) 2016 Brian Awehali

This was the largest of many ancient cisterns beneath Constantinople (now Istanbul), and it was built (by slaves) in the 6th century during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I. The section of the cistern with Medusa’s head planted, upside down and supporting a pillar, was actually taken from another ruin and added to this site later.

People have thrown coins into the water around Medusa’s head, and I wondered: What were they wishing for?

To ponder that, consider Medusa, who’s been interpreted as many things, including as a symbol of female rage, nihilism, and scientific determinism trampling on religious “truth.” Freud unsurprisingly made her all about the penis, and interpreted Medusa as a talisman representing castration.

Fish in the Basilica Cistern don’t care about symbolism or religion. (c) 2016 Brian Awehali

Fish in the Basilica Cistern don’t care about symbolism or religion. (c) 2016 Brian Awehali

View of the Basilica Cistern ceiling. (c) 2016 Brian Awehali

View of the Basilica Cistern ceiling. (c) 2016 Brian Awehali

A skeptic or sympathizer before Medusa. (c) 2016 Brian Awehali

A skeptic or sympathizer before Medusa. (c) 2016 Brian Awehali

It seems likely that most well-wishers to Medusa are aggrieved women seeking revenge and redress for their injuries, probably against a man, or men who wronged them. Perhaps some were also making defiantly vengeful wishes against those who proclaim women to be second-rate or inherently lesser than men, or who scold and circumscribe women’s self-expression because of its allegedly deleterious impact on men’s loins and morals. But really, isn’t that properly men’s problem to deal with?

As one Istanbulian woman I met commented hilariously: “You’d think these men would be more ashamed to admit so openly that they’re such perverts! Oooh, a leg! Oh no, a neck! I can’t control myself!”

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